While more members of the Pride of Oklahoma have now tested positive for COVID-19 following the band’s Alamo Bowl travel, some said responsibility should not lie solely with the band’s staff.
On Jan. 1, some Pride members said they were ‘frustrated’ band staff didn't more strongly encourage masking in buses or take additional precautions for the trip, which was the longest The Pride had taken during the football season. At the time, 11 of the band’s 335 Alamo Bowl attendees had tested positive. Pride of Oklahoma Director Brian Britt told The Daily he is aware of 40 total positive tests as of Jan. 5.
Others within the band said, while they understand their peers’ frustration, they felt much of the criticism of Pride staff was unfair and a “short-sighted evaluation” of steps the band took to keep its members comfortable with the trip.
“I work closer with (band staff) than 99 percent of The Pride as the uniform manager,” said Jack Swearingen, industrial and systems engineering senior and Pride member. “In our procedural meetings, this staff always has health and safety as a top priority whenever we're doing anything, whether that's staying home or going on trips. If anyone had expressed any concerns with them prior to leaving … they would have listened to that, and they wouldn't have turned a blind eye to it.”
Britt told The Daily that, in prior years, The Pride “had a strict attendance policy” for regular season and bowl football games. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the policy has been far more lenient.
“We have allowed students to stay home from rehearsal if they were concerned they might be ill, even if the Healthy Together App cleared them to rehearse,” Britt said. “I took the same approach with the bowl trip this year. Prior to the bowl trip, I had a few students contact me concerned about COVID. In each case, we excused them from attending with no repercussions regarding their status with The Pride in the future.”
Brooklynn Briles, a sports management sophomore and Pride member, said the increased leniency of band protocol made some students' criticism of band staff after the trip feel unfair.
“I implore students who came forward to please reach out to the staff when there's an issue at hand, because it’s impossible for a leader to address unexpressed concerns,” Briles said.
Briles felt band staff did all they could given state statutes designed to prevent universities from implementing mask mandates, she said. Some OU law professors have argued the laws only keep universities from implementing mask mandates for unvaccinated students. Masks were subsequently required for media members attending OU football press conferences.
Requiring testing before the trip would have presented more logistical challenges, Briles said, as at-home tests have proven inconsistently accurate, especially in the early stages of infection when people carry lower levels of the virus. Requiring band members to obtain in-lab PCR tests would have created a difficult timeline given the holiday season, potential insurance costs and delay in receiving a result, Briles said.
“Looking at the timing of the bowl game, it was right around Christmas, and through no fault of their own students were unfortunately exposed,” Briles said. “That was a very big risk factor. … When we look at this from a procedural standpoint, the issue is not from The Pride itself, the issue is from a global pandemic.”
The pandemic has continued and peaked this winter, with daily caseloads in the U.S. rising to record-breaking levels due to the omicron surge. Johns Hopkins University reported over 1 million new infections nationwide on Jan. 3, with 7,913 in Oklahoma. Oklahoma reported 4,110 new cases on Jan. 4.
An OU spokesperson told The Daily the university is “closely monitoring” the COVID-19 situation across all campuses and “will modify protocols as appropriate.” Any new guidance will be made available here.
Swearingen said, as The Pride continues to navigate COVID-19, he hopes members will communicate concerns with leadership more directly.
“I think that this issue should be less of us versus the staff and more of us working with the staff to see how we can be better,” Swearingen said.
Editor's note: This article was updated at 4:07 p.m. on Jan 10 to reflect the proper spelling of Johns Hopkins University.